Chinatown London Eat and shop in Chinatown

Chinatown London gate

London’s Chinatown is relatively small compared to the Chinatowns in US cities but it’s still great for food shopping or dining at the many restaurants.

Red Chinese lanterns often hang over the side streets and the decorative Chinese gates, at either end of pedestrianised Gerrard Street, make the best photo ops.

Whether you want to grab a pork bun from the Golden Gate Cake Shop on Macclesfield Street or pick up a waving Hello Kitty, this is the right place to be.

Harry Potter Tour Wander the area on this free Harry Potter Tour

On this free walking tour, muggle tour guides show you buildings and streets that inspired and appeared in the schoolboy wizard films.

You’ll hear about the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 that happened in Leicester Square and go to a very cool sweet shop that sells Dumbledore’s favourite Sherbert Lemons.

The 2.5-hour tour runs daily at 11am and 3.30pm from Leicester Square at the Swiss Flags Monument between M&M’s World & the Lego Store. (Look for a guide carrying a strawberry umbrella.) While the tour is free, you can reward the guide at the end of the tour. In fact, they’d like you to very much.

Canada House Admire the art and the building at Canada House

This is the High Commission (diplomatic office) for Canadians in London but any of us can go inside to see the Canada Gallery for free. There are paintings, sculptures and more showcasing Canadian talent.

And there’s usually a temporary special exhibition too. The building is also rather lovely so they offer free tours once a month (book on the website).

LEGO Store Be a big kid in the LEGO Store

With fun on two floors, this is the largest LEGO store in the world. And it’s very ‘London’ from the 6.5m Big Ben (with a working clock that’s illuminated at night) to the life-size LEGO tube carriage where you can sit between a Queen’s Guard and William Shakespeare to pose for pics.

There are photo opportunities aplenty here as there’s also a red telephone box, Royal Mail postbox and the Leicester Square tube roundel (just so you don’t forget where you are). Obviously, they want you to buy while here so the shelves are lined with loads of kits and the Mosaic Maker is a real highlight (if you have deep pockets).

You sit in what looks like an ordinary photo booth yet the photo it takes is transformed into your own personalised LEGO kit! You get a box of all the pieces needed plus a printout of your photo to use as build instructions.

Hippodrome Casino Be Spoilt for Entertainment at the Hippodrome Casino

A stunning late-Victorian building, the Hippodrome has been a theatre, music hall, nightclub and now a huge casino.

There are five floors of gaming, including a dedicated poker deck and private poker rooms. Open 24 hours a day with free entry and no membership required. There’s no dress code so anyone (over 18) can just walk in.

And The Matcham Room (named after Frank Matcham who designed the building) is where they stage the Theatre shows.

M&M’s World Buy brightly-coloured candy at M&M’s World

Why is an American chocolate shop one of the most popular tourist attractions in London? Well, it’s the only M&M’s World in Europe and there are four floors of chocolate!

You enter through a 1963 London double-decker bus and get sucked into the photo ops everywhere. Make your own blends from a full range of both milk chocolate and peanut M&Ms at the rainbow Wall of Chocolate.

Or try the M&Ms colour mood analyser to hear your colour announced to all. (You want to be blue as it’s the coolest.) The bright lighting, colours and loud music make this an ‘in your face’ type of shopping experience but it is hard to deny it’s fun.

There’s more merchandise than you thought possible from mugs and clothing to jewellery and towels. The candy isn’t cheap here but this is a place for gift shopping that’s open until midnight Monday to Saturday.

Prince Charles Cinema Catch a movie at the Prince Charles Cinema

Down a side street off Leicester Square, the Prince Charles Cinema is the only independent cinema in central London. Unlike other West End cinemas, the ticket prices are pretty cheap and there’s an annual membership for further reductions.

You won’t see the latest releases here but you will find a selection of cult, arthouse and classic films, as well as all-night movie marathons, on the two screens.

And the sing-a-long events are great fun as you learn dance moves and practice your cheers before the show so expect everyone to get up when the songs start. Do note, the PCC has drinks and popcorn for sale but no hot or smelly food is allowed.

Piccadilly Circus Get snap happy in Piccadilly Circus

A circus just means a junction and there are five busy streets that connect at Piccadilly Circus. Considering there’s not actually that much to do here, Piccadilly Circus still gets around half a million visitors daily.

Consider it a colourful backdrop so take a seat at the Eros statue to people watch, or get a photo of the huge iconic video adverts.

Do look out for the rare police public call box between Piccadilly and Regent Street. It looks like a miniature Doctor Who TARDIS and dates from about 1935.

Picturehouse Central Grab a coffee before a movie at Picturehouse Central

This is so much more than a cinema as the ground floor is a rather excellent cafe with top-notch tea and chocolate brownies. And that all-important free wifi too, of course.

The mezzanine level is where to stop for lunch or for a drink in the evening. Back to the movies, this is a seven-screen arthouse multiplex that shows quality blockbusters and independent, classic, foreign-language and documentary films.

You’ll soon see why many become a member here (and it’s not just to get into the Members Only Bar).

TKTS Grab cheap theatre tickets at TKTS

Originally known as the Official Half Price Ticket Booth, TKTS has been on the south side of Leicester Square since 1980.

There are other theatre ticket sellers in the square but this is the only official one as it’s run by the Society of London Theatres (SOLT) with all profits supporting the theatre industry.

Open seven days a week, TKTS has tickets for shows on the day and up to a week in advance. Not all are discounted but many are and the range available is always good.

The queues can be long but you can see the full list of what’s on sale on the website or on the displays outside the booth. Booking fees are included in the advertised prices and you can pay by MasterCard, Visa or cash.

Body Worlds Exhibition Hang out with dead people at the Body Worlds Exhibition

Entrance to the Body Worlds Exhibition London

Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds exhibition has been touring the world since 1995 but it now has a permanent home in Piccadilly Circus.

As a museum of the human body, on display are a series of plastinated posed corpses and internal organs. Yep, all of the anatomical specimens in the exhibition are real.

This isn’t a small museum as there are seven floors of exhibits, including some animals too. Think of it like Madame Tussauds, except much gorier.

The Comedy Store Laugh the night away at The Comedy Store

This is an over 18s only specifically designed stand-up comedy venue. It launched the career of lots of ’80s’alternative comedians’ such as Rik Mayall and French & Saunders, as well as Paul Merton and Ben Elton.

The comedy week has topical news-based comedy on Tuesdays and improv based on audience suggestions on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday it’s classic stand-up comedy, and the last Monday of the month is open mic.

Leicester Square Theatre Enjoy A night at Leicester Square Theatre

This 400-seat theatre is just off Leicester Square. It’s been lovingly restored with two bars in the main theatre and an intimate bar downstairs with a capacity of up to 70 for cabaret-style performances.

Expect to find comedy plus improv, magic and family shows, so really, something for everyone.

Oh, and in a previous incarnation, this was where the Sex Pistols played one of their first gigs on 15 November 1976.

Swiss Glockenspiel Listen to the bells on the Swiss Glockenspiel

Where M&M’s World now stands was the Swiss Centre until 2008. While most don’t miss the building, there was some sense of loss that the glockenspiel on the outside was gone.

A version of it (redesigned and restored) returned on a 10-metre pole in the pedestrianised Swiss Court in 2011. It features 11 moving Swiss figures against a traditional Swiss alpine backdrop.

There are 27 bells, 4 Swiss Jacomas representing bell ringers and 2 clocks at the top of the structure. The bells chime and a five-minute performance takes place five times a day, Monday to Friday, and eight times a day at the weekend.

It’s a nice quirky find to see in action.

Empire Casino Play the tables at the Empire Casino

This is a 24-hour Vegas-style casino on the north side of Leicester Square. Table games include blackjack, poker and roulette and there are plenty of slots too.

The Carlsberg Sports Bar offers multi-screens of Premier League matches, NFL and more. Or head up to the Icon Balcony Bar for cocktails on the terrace overlooking Leicester Square.

Cineworld Leicester Square See a blockbuster at Cineworld Leicester Square

The Empire Leicester Square is a well-known cinema now operated by Cineworld. It’s one of the Leicester Square cinemas used for film premieres and first runs.

It’s a multiplex with 9 screens including an IMAX with laser projection and 3D options. Be warned, seeing new releases in Leicester Square is never cheap.

Café de Paris See a show or dance the night away at Café de Paris

Since its grand opening in 1924, the opulent Café de Paris has hosted more than nine decades of nightlife. The grand sweeping staircases and glittering chandeliers make this a fine place to make a night of it.

Vue West End See the latest release at Vue West End

If you want to see the latest cinema release, this Leicester Square cinema is a good choice. There are nine screens with 1,388 seats. The stepped seating ensures everyone has a great view.

But be prepared for high prices as West End cinema trips are rarely a bargain.

National Gallery See world-class art at the National Gallery

National gallery

Taking up the whole of the northern side of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is a wonderful art gallery. Free to visit, inside there are over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.

And these aren’t just any paintings as these are European art masterpieces. You’ll recognise loads of the artworks from big names such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Velázquez, Rubens and Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s a beautiful building so it’s worth going in even if you think you’re not an art lover.

Japan Centre Shop and dine at the Japan Centre

In London since 1976, the Japan Centre flagship store has been on Panton Street since 2017.

The traditional ‘depachika’ (the Japanese word for a basement food hall) has specialist food rooms, all set around open kitchens and a central dine-in courtyard.

There’s a miso room, a dedicated tea room where you can try and buy lots of different blends, and a sake room with experts on hand.

The take-out deli section of the store has noodles, including ramen and hand pulled udon, Japanese curry, and a range of gyoza and tempura.

In the main shop, you can buy dry goods like seaweed as well as fresh fish for making sashimi. And there are non-food items such as cookware, beauty products and manga comics too.

Trafalgar Square Stand in the famous Trafalgar Square

united kingdom, london, trafalgar square

Surrounded by historic buildings, everyone has heard of this public square.

There are four plinths for statues in the corners of the square. Bronze statues stand on three of them and the Fourth Plinth has a changing display of contemporary artworks.

The two fountains are lovely to see and there’s the very tall Nelson’s Column too.

Trafalgar Square is closed to traffic on the north side so this wide promenade has lots of street performers – usually including a few ‘floating Yodas’!

Lots of annual public events take place here including Chinese New Year and St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Leicester Square Gardens Find a famous statue in Leicester Square Gardens

Surrounded by trees, Leicester Square Gardens in the centre of Leicester Square. It was redeveloped in 2012 with fountains added around the William Shakespeare statue plus more seating.

The Grade II listed (must be preserved) marble figure stands on a pedestal flanked by dolphins at the centre of a fountain. Jets of water shoot up 2 metres into the air and the fountain is lit at night.

Another prized memorial in Leicester Square Gardens is the bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin sculpted by John Doubleday.

Her Majesty’s Theatre Bask in the lavish décor of Her Majesty’s Theatre

Her Majesty's Theatre

The site of Her Majesty’s Theatre has hosted productions since 1705. The current theatre was opened in 1897 and visitors are treated to lavish architecture and interior décor. Since 1986 theatre goers have enjoyed the staging of one of the world’s most popular musicals, The Phantom of the Opera.

The theatre’s Victorian architecture is influenced by the French Renaissance. Relax pre-show in the Champagne bar located in the foyer and admire the décor, before heading in to the auditorium to be royally entertained like the thousands before you down the years.